Dáil Éireann - Volume 479 - 13 May, 1997

Adjournment Debate. - Scoil Chroí Íosa, Galway.

[302] Éamon Ó Cuív: Ní don chéad uair go gcaithfidh me a rá go gcuireann sé íontas orm nach fiú don Aire féin teacht isteach sa Teach seo agus ceisteanna ar an athló a thógaint. Ceapaim gurb é seo an seans deiridh a bheid agam sa Dáil seo ceist faoi chúrsaí oideachais a thógaint ar an athló agus is ar éigean gur féidir liom cuimhneamh ar uair amhain fiú go raibh an tAire féin i láthair. Ón bhfreagra a thug an tAire Stáit is cosúil gurb é an nós atá ann ná na ceistenna seo a fhreagairt de réir róta éigin atá leagtha amach. Níl sé sin sásúil. Níl sé sásúil do na gasúir, do na tuismitheoiri nó do na múinteoirí sa scoil.

Scoil Chroí Íosa, in Galway city, had 209 students on the roll last September. The school was told by the Department that there would be a reduction of one teacher from September next. No doubt I will be told that is in accordance with guidelines and agreements made with the INTO and so on, and that may be so, but it is unsatisfactory. There are 220 pupils in the school at present, an increase of 12 pupils over the number on the roll last September. Of that number, 41 are from traveller families. There are two resource teachers in the school to deal with those students who have special needs.

A further seven children from traveller families have applied to attend the school next September. In addition, a large number of children in the area come from homes that experience various difficulties. All the surrounding schools, have been granted disadvantaged status. Despite the fact that in the region of one fifth of the students in the school come from traveller families, it is not considered disadvantaged, which is extraordinary. Even more extraordinary — this problem arises constantly as a result of the guidelines drawn up, for which at the end of the day the Minister is responsible — is that the secondary school attached to this primary school is considered disadvantaged.

Of the 40 children in junior infants in this school, 12 are from traveller families and of the 31 children in senior infants, six are from traveller families. Considering the demographic trends, the school's requests are not unreasonable. It seeks to retain the present level of staffing in view of the enrolment in the school and the problems faced by it. It also requests that the school be afforded disadvantaged status, like the other schools in the area. If that request was acceded to, however, it would not be possible to have 40 pupils in junior infants and 31 in senior infants.

Ó thárla go bhfuil deireadh ag teacht leis an Dáil seo beidh mé ag súil le deascéala ón Aire anocht, go mbeifear in ann gabháil timpeall ar na rialacha agus ar na rialacháin ar fad, agus go mbeidh sé in ann a fhógairt go bhfuil an tAire tar éis breathnú ar an cheist seo, go bhfuil ciall tagaithe i ndeireadh na dála seo maidir leis an scoil seo agus go bhfágfar an múinteoir sa scoil seo agus nach laghdófar líon na fóirne mar atá fógraithe ag an Aire.

[303] Mr. Allen: The staffing of a national school for a particular year is determined by the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous year. This is in accordance with an agreement on staffing which has been entered into between the Government and the INTO. Arising from that agreement, a staffing schedule is drafted annually. The schedule sets out the relevant enrolment which schools must have attained on 30 September of the previous year to qualify for extra staffing. Likewise, the schedule specifies the minimum enrolment required to have been attained to retain posts.

The Minister for Education has amended the staffing schedule for the 1997-8 school year. In accordance with the amended schedule, the retention figure for the seventh assistant teacher has been reduced from 222 to 215. Unfortunately, the school to which the Deputy refers achieved an enrolment in September 1996 of 209, six pupils short of the retention figure for the seventh assistant post. Accordingly, the seventh assistant post at the school will be suppressed at the end of the current school year. The most junior assistant teacher in the school has been offered panel rights but has deferred same to take up a temporary post in the school.

Since becoming Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach has included an additional 104 primary schools in the disadvantaged areas scheme. This brings the total number of primary schools in the scheme to 320. The scheme was last expanded in 1994 when an additional 54 primary schools were newly included. The case put forward by the school in question was considered at that time. Unfortunately, when regard was had to the relative levels of need among competing schools, the needs of the school in question were not considered to be of such priority as to warrant its inclusion on that occasion. Traditionally, schools have been selected for inclusion in the disadvantaged areas scheme on the basis of priority of need as reflected under a range of socio-economic indicators. The indicators in question took account of such factors as levels of unemployment, medical card holding and local authority housing occupancy among the families of the children concerned.

However, in 1995 the Minister for Education commissioned the Combat Poverty Agency and the Education Reasearch Centre to conduct a detailed review of current approaches to addressing the problem of educational disadvantage. The Minister's decision to commission this study arose from a concern to ensure that supports were properly targeted and children with real need were in a position to benefit from the scheme. The criteria used in selecting schools for special support and the nature of the supports provided were among the issues addressed in the study. Among the key issues raised by the study was a concern that under the current selection criteria, the scheme did not have due regard to rural and dispersed disadvantage. It was recommended that the criteria used in selecting schools for support [304] be amended to better reflect educational disadvantage as manifested in rural as well as urban settings. It was also recommended that a more targeted approach be adopted with resources being directed towards the most disadvantaged urban and rural areas. The report considered that disadvantaged area supports should be confined to 16 per cent of the school-going population. In this regard, it was noted that the current scheme already extends to more than 17 per cent of pupils.

In response to these findings, the Minister recently launched a targeted initiative which aims to break the cycle of educational disadvantage in selected urban and rural areas. The urban phase of the initiative focused on primary schools which were designated as disadvantaged in the urban areas of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. The rural phase of the initiative focused on schools throughout the country with fewer than five teachers. All eligible schools were invited by the Education Research Centre to apply for inclusion in the initiative. Unfortunately, the school in question was not eligible because of its size. The Education Research Centre selected schools for inclusion on the basis of priority of need as reflected under a range of criteria it had devised. A total of 33 urban and 123 rural schools has been selected to participate in the breaking the cycle initiative. Each school is required to prepare a five year development plan which will identify current difficulties and put forward specific proposals and targets to address the problem of educational disadvantage in the selected areas.

The operation of the breaking the cycle initiative is being closely monitored by the Department's inspectorate and the project will be evaluated by the Education Research Centre. The outcome of this evaluation will provide a basis for considering future developments in supports for disadvantaged areas. In the event of any such developments being undertaken, the needs of the school to which the Deputy refers will be fully considered.